Listen! Unlocking Our Sound Heritage – sounds great

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

Bristol Culture is an important part of the British Library’s exciting national project ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH). This project, kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will save and make available to the public almost half a million rare and unique recordings that are threatened by physical degradation or stored on formats that can no longer be accessed.

To accomplish this huge task, ten sound preservation centres have been set up across the UK.  Each centre will digitise and catalogue sound collections from their region. Bristol Archives is home to the centre for South West England, and a dedicated new team is set to preserve 5000 recordings from across our region.

Bristol’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team

But digitisation is just the first step. The team wants to share the recordings throughout the South West and are designing an engaging program of public events. You’ll be able hear wonderful sound treasures such as music performances from St Pauls Carnival, jingles from the Bristol Channel TV station, a wealth of oral history recordings from the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection, recorded performances from the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, even Cornish brass bands from Cornwall Record Office.

Why now?

Professional consensus is that there are approximately 15 years left to digitise many sound collections before they become unreadable and are effectively lost for future generations, so digitising these recordings for the future now is crucial.

The video below shows an analogue audio tape the team tried to digitise recently. Audio tape has a clear plastic base which is coated in iron oxide; the oxide gives the tape its brown colour and is the medium that captures the audio. As the tape ages, the oxide starts to flake off the plastic, a condition known as ‘sticky shed syndrome’. The clear sections of the tape you can see in the video is audio lost forever.

Also the playback equipment for reels, cassettes, even minidiscs, is rapidly becoming scarce, and replacement parts scarcer still, along with the knowledge of how the repair and maintain the various formats. The UOSH hubs are equipped with the equipment and, crucially, the knowledge to digitise and preserve audio collections before it’s too late. UOSH is just the first step; we’ll preserve a huge number of recordings but there is much more work to be done.

The sound room at Bristol Archives

The sound room at Bristol Archives

How can I listen?

The UOSH team has a goal to contact copyright holders and get permission to make 10% of the material we are digitising available on the internet. The British Library is creating a new website for listeners to explore the wide selection of recordings – traditional, pop and world music, drama and literature readings, oral history, regional radio, wildlife sounds and more – collected and digitised by all the sound preservation network centres.

Also, all the collection holders we are working with (Bristol Archives and 14 other museums, archives, and institutions in South West England) will be able to make this cleared material available via their own websites and social media channels, and can choose to make all the preserved material available to visitors to their buildings, subject to permissions.

Finally, the UOSH team and volunteers will be sharing intriguing excerpts and behind the scenes gems on Bristol Archives and Bristol Culture’s website and social media channels – so tune in and hear more!

Smiling woman wearing headphones sat in front of a laptop

A happy volunteer!

How can I help?

Getting more people aware of, loving, and caring for audio archives is a key driver for UOSH. The team is keen to involve local volunteers in their work. If you’d like to learn more, keep an eye on Bristol Archives’ Facebook, Twitter and website. There will be so much to explore, and we’d love you be involved!


4 comments on “Listen! Unlocking Our Sound Heritage – sounds great

  1. Chris mountain

    Hi my name is chris mountain and I would interested to help. I am a trustee and volunteer at bhbs bristol hospital radio which has been going since 1952.. also am a member of friends of Bristol museum.

    Although this not really the purpose of this email we have some radio archive material which you may like! Perhaps you feel you have enough already..

    Chris mountain


    1. Katie Scaife

      Hi Chris, thanks for getting in touch! We are looking for volunteers to help listen to all the material and check the content. If you can start soon, you may be able to hear some of the Cotswold Roundabout collection (we’re nearly finished this one) which was hospital radio based in Gloucester from 1960-1976! Really lovely stuff.

      We already do have a full list of material to digitise but it’s always good to hear about other collections that are out there!

      You can contact us at [email protected]


  2. Jeff Moran

    Great Post

    Many of us are missing full spectrum sound as a stimulation tool I believe. They close down (selected hearing) from frequency ranges that they feel threatened by in such cases of abuse and war sounds. Through stimulation they often open up and release trauma but don’t actually know where it is coming from.

    As Nicola Tesla once said: “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”

    Because we are made up of frequencies, research has shown that when we are missing a certain range of light frequencies, it can lead to “Seasonal Affective Disorder” SAD and is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year.

    Sunlight stimulates the release of the brain’s happy chemicals and hormones. The theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls mood, appetite and sleep. In people with SAD, a lack of sunlight creates a problem with the release of certain brain chemicals which stops the hypothalamus working correctly.

    The lack of these light frequencies is shown to have an affect upon:

    Production of the hormone melatonin that helps you to sleep
    Production of serotonin with its nickname “the HAPPY hormone”
    Body’s circadian rhythm (which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period)

    Now, what is interesting is that the same thing happens with sound as with light because it’s all frequency.

    When we are missing certain tones and frequencies within our energetic system, then we don’t feel as healthy as we naturally should do.

    “Sound and light frequencies act like vitamins and minerals in the body, so the body needs a full spectrum of frequencies to stay fit and healthy”.

    The future of healing is in sound
    Jeff Moran


  3. Count Skylarkin

    Hi there

    I was fortunate enough to count DJ Derek as a close friend, and inherited his 25,000-tune-strong collection of minidiscs. I’m hoping to secure an Arts Council grant myself to record, restore and archive the entire catalogue. As a jobbing DJ myself covid has meant that I’ve suddenly got the time to do it! I’d be interested to find out if Derek’s collection would be of interest to you and if there’s a way we could collaborate on the project (working title: Derek’s Island Discs).

    Best wishes



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.